Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sociologists Honor Charles S. Johnson, Former SRC Chairman

The Southern Sociological Society (“SSS” or the “Society”) has announced the posthumous appointment of its former President Charles S. Johnson to the Society’s Roll of Honor. The Society celebrated this appointment in festivities at its Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida on April 8, 2011.

SSS was established in 1935 to promote the development of sociology as a profession and scientific discipline by the maintenance of high academic professional and ethical standards, and by encouraging effective teaching of sociology, valid and reliable methods and research in the study of human society, diffusion of sociological knowledge and its application to societal problems, cooperation with related disciplines and groups, recruitment and training of sociologists, and development of sociology programs in educational and other agencies. The Society's 2010 Annual Meeting featured a program exploring the Southern Regional Council's recent study of collaborations among African American and Latino communities.

Appointment to the Society's Roll of Honor is greatest recognition which the Society can bestow, recognizing a career of distinguished intellectual contribution to Sociology.

Johnson was born in Bristol Virginia and attended Richmond's Wayland Academy. Following his graduation from Virginia Union, Johnson pursued his graduate studies at the University of Chicago under the tutelage of the venerable Robert A. Park. Working with the Chicago Urban League and the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, Johnson played a key role in the publication of The Negro in Chicago, a landmark study of conditions which led to the deadly Chicago Riot of 1919. In 1921 he relocated to New York, where he served the National Urban League as Director of its Department of Research and Investigations and editor of its house organ, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life.

In 1928, Johnson relocated to the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he established a nationally-known Department of Social Sciences and an internationally-known Department of Race Relations. His numerous sociological publications include Shadow of the Plantation and Growing Up in the Black Belt. He assembled a distinguished team of researchers who did pioneering work in he application of the survey method and the “sociology of tensions.”

In 1943, a meeting was held in Atlanta which resulted in the establishment of the Southern Regional Council, with Johnson as Chairman of the Executive Committee and Will W. Alexander as Chairman of the Board.

In 1945, Johnson was elected President of the Southern Sociological Society. He presided over the Society’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta in 1946 (his last year as Chair of the Fisk Department Social Sciences and immediately preceding his appointment as the first Black President of Fisk). The announcement of the Atlanta meeting noted that the meeting would be held at the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel, that a block of rooms was being held at the Biltmore, and that “[o]ther accommodations” would be available at Atlanta University. The “other accommodations,” of course, were for the use of the Society’s African American members.

Johnson’s leading biographers have commented on this incident as follows:

“Johnson, then in his last year as chairman of the Department of Social Sciences, was caught in one of the many ironies of Jim Crow. As a scholar who was recognized by both his black and white peers as one of the most profound sociologists in the South and as the duly elected president of the Southern Sociological Society, Johnson was being given the highest honor that his regional peers were capable of bestowing. At the same time, he was denied the right of public accommodations afforded the white members of the society, including T. Lynn Smith, whom he had defeated [in his race for the Presidency of the Society].”*

The Society's celebration included a panel discussion on "The Work and Career of Charles S. Johnson." Papers were presented by Earl Wright II of the University of Cincinnati ("Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University and the Tradition of Black Sociology"), John H. Stanfield II of the University of Indiana ("Charles S. Johnson: The Need for Reappraisal") and Tomeka Davis of Georgia State University ("Hope Betrayed? Black Schooling and Economic Outcomes in the 21st Century"). Other presenters included Jeh Vincent Johnson of Vassar College, Charles S. Johnson III of Holland & Knight and the Southern Regional Council, and Winifred M. Johnson of Bethune-Cookman University ("Charles S. Johnson's Life and Legacy: A Family Perspective").

Other family members present included Norma E. Johnson, Rosemary, Matthew and Anthony McDaniel, and Sondra R. Johnson


*Patrick J. Gilpin and Marybeth Gasman, Charles S. Johnson: Leadership Beyond the Veil in the Age of Jim Crow, p. 156.

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